Sunday, May 13, 2012

Machine vision off-the-shelf or DIY?

Many moons ago Andy Wilson wrote a piece in Vision Systems Design asking why some companies insist on writing their own vision software when so many good products are available. It’s a good question, but I think I have a rebuttal. It’s called OpenCV.

As this link on the Vision System Design website explains, OpenCV is a free library of vision software tools, developed and made available by Intel. Now I have taken a look at this myself, and it’s pretty heavy duty, requiring a high level of programming competence to put it to work.

That’s probably why, as the VSD article explains, there’s now a Quick-Start OpenCV kit. I shall look at this in due course, but let’s return to the question of why DIY?

Most builders of industrial automation offer machine vision. In the main they go with smart camera products from Cognex, Banner, Keyence and so on, although a few do package up Halcon or CVB. But if you’re a big player in automation – like ATS for example – you’ll probably start wondering why you want to keep shoveling your hard-earned shekels in the direction of Natick.

The answer then is to create your own vision product, which is what ATS has done with their Cortex™ Vision system, (registration required to download the info,) which runs their SmartVision software. Cortex is a family of two semi-industrial PCs with ports for lights and cameras. I say “semi-industrial” because they appear to be fan-cooled, which means dust problems down the road. (I much prefer solid-state, like the Nuvo (“A PC for machine vision”.)) Also, the camera connections appear to be GigE only.

SmartVision, according to the literature on the ATS site, “leverages open source software such as Intel OpenCV,”. So it’s OpenCV. I can’t say how good it is, but I’m betting it’s a pretty solid product.

Now ATS build a lot of automation, and I imagine they implement a lot of vision, so the economics probably stack up in favor of this DIY approach. I am however thinking, “Don’t try this at home.”

And there’s one other point to consider: when you buy ATS hardware and get their vision systems too, what are your upgrade and repair options? Hmm, I imagine you have to go back to ATS.

Smart people.

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